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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                       213
Meresyev's face beamed.
"And you would be absolutely right! Thanks for that!
I thank you in the name of the entire Soviet Army! And
I'll write to Grisha and tell him that he is a very good
judge of people!"
They chatted until about three o'clock, when the dusty
sunbeams that slanted into the room began to creep up the
wall. It was time for Alexei to catch his train. Sadly and
reluctantly, he got up from the green velvet armchair,
taking some of the stuffing with him on his coat. Anyuta
saw him off to the station. They walked arm in arm and,
having rested, Alexei stepped out so confidently that
Anyuta asked herself: "Was Grisha joking when he wrote
that his friend had no feet?" She told Alexei about the
base hospital where she and other medical students now
worked, sorting the wounded. There was plenty of work,
she said, because several trainloads of wounded were com-
ing in every day from the South. And what wonderful
men these wounded were, and how bravely they bore
their sufferings! Suddenly she interrupted herself and
"Were you serious when you said that Grisha was grow-
ing a beard?" She was silent and pensive for a moment
and then added: "I understand everything now. Til tell
you honestly, as I told my Dad: at first I could not bear
to look at his scars. No, not bear, that's not the right
word. I mean—frightened. No! That's not right, either.
I don't know how to describe it. Can you understand me?
Perhaps it was not nice of me, but what can one do? But
to run away from me! The silly boy! Lord, what a silly
boy! If you write to him, tell him that I am hurt, hurt
very much by his behaviour."
The vast railway station was filled almost entirely with
soldiers, some hurrying on definite errands and others sit-
ting silently on the forms ranged round the walls or on
their kit-bags, or squatting on the floor, with frowning,
care-worn faces, their minds seemingly concentrated upon
a single thought. At one time, this line was the main con-
nection with Western Europe; the enemy had now cut the
road to the West about eighty kilometres from Moscow.
Only troop trains ran on the short remaining stretch, and
in a matter of two hours the men travelled from the capital